If there was an newly set-up European OFN representative organization...should this organization comercially trade between all countries?

Dear all, there is conversation happening on Slack that I believe should be opened to others members of this community for wider input.

As some of you know there are a small group of people trying to think develop a couple of scenarios in which a european OFN could emerge. There are different expectations that have been raised and this group is trying their best to fulfill them (building different potential optional scenarios for this future organization). One aspect that has been raised is the inclusion of trade in this organization.

So should a newly formed OFN (that represents many countries in this geography) include a service of trade between countries? As our colleagues @hhomann said " A thing I would like to discuss in our next meeting is wether or not it makes sense to think about the OFN Europe not only as an organizational body but also as an own instance (openfoodnetwork.eu or something like that) where users then can buy oranges from spain, mozarella from italy, etc."

(I will leave my own comments below and post some of the others as well).

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Here is Stefano’s comment (from OFN Italy): “as far as I know it already happens e.g in OFN France you can buy oranges from Sicily :wink: . As i said in our last meeting as Italian group we don’t see the need for participating in another instance beside the national one. However we are interested in talking about European inter-cooperation and shared resources e.g IT infrastructure, finance etc.

Here are a couple of thoughts of mine already posted on Slack:
"In fact there are a number of OFN instances where this already happens. OFN UK has suppliers from Ireland; OFN Katuma has suppliers from Portugal (I think even from South America); I believe OFN Deutschland already has some suppliers from south Europe too; there are probably other examples too.
My quick thoughts (positives/negatives) on the matter are that:

[Negatives]

  • we state that our values are for the support of small farmers but if we facilitate the sale of lengthy commercial routes are we still looking to our back-yard and promoting seasonal+local foods
  • if we think of creating a new European OFN organization that can trade in many countries, how will that affect already established instances? Will they merge? will they step away and work individually? will we be creating more distance instance cooperation?
  • as I mentioned before: how much more complicated would it be to set a new organization that can trade all over Europe instead of an organization that is mainly working on knowledge development+advocacy+community engagement? Will we still be trying to set-up this org in 2-3 years time? But ~I am not an expert on this so we would definitely have to confirm.

[Positives]

  • there are some established networks that barely have any people driving them, as there are no resources to keep fueling them. So maybe if we would join under one umbrella that could benefit us all.
  • If some small farmers that produce sustainably can sell to other countries maybe that could impact the reduction of sales of massive agri-farmes that are depleting our natural resources in South of Europe
  • If we can also shift some consumer needs from big supermarket chains to local food hubs by supplying more exotic products to that country that could probably have a a very direct social impact (local jobs with better labor conditions).
  • it is not a surprise that we see trade already happening between some countries…much commerce has been happening within our geography for centuries. Therefore if we keep long food trade under control (eg.: within European continent) and encouraging short food circuits along different countries’ borders are we not still fulfilling our role/values?

So generally speaking, I am not totally convinced either way, however I see that maybe we can try to take small steps and move in phases. Allowing us take a step back (or to the side) if the path chosen might seem tricky (or result in conflict with our values)
For instance could we:

  • envisage an organization at the start that creates a hub for launching OFNs. There could be some trading involved but only small amounts until the instance can stand-up by itself.
  • could we create an association where different services are available (one of them being trade, but not just that), and only those interested in merging their commercial activities with the wider network would join. In this case, the instances could join and participate in different activities, it would not be expected that everyone would be connecting with the European organization for the same reasons. Hence those instances that would want to merge their trade could do so, and those who do not could keep managing this on their own.

"

There are a number of people who might see this but I am also tagging here some who might not if not tagged: @enricostn @sigmundpetersen @matt @filipefurtado @walt @MyriamBoure @Davie-Philip @Evonne (would really like to know your opinion on the matter).

It seems to me that an advantage of a European instance could be inter-country trade. Of course this is only possible among countries using the same currency (as the OFN platform doesn’t convert between currencies in the same way it converts between different languages…)

There is a ‘simple’ way to accomplish the trade with changing nothing else - isn’t there? For example - we have multiple ‘suppliers’ on the OFN-Canada platform who are based in the US - but their goods are sold in Canadian shops in Canadian currency. Thats the best we can do. BUT because you have a cluster of instances that share currency, you can do this more easily. You don’t need a new codebase deployed to do this. So maybe this is where you start and see how the experiments go…

In NA the limitation to cross-country OFN trade is that we don’t share currency - but we DO share language. For you its the opposite - you share currency, but not language. SO in your case instances of the platform that want to engage in cross-country trade just need to consider adding languages perhaps.

The question of whether there should be a deployment of a European codebase, and whether this displaces, weakens or strengthens existing instance deployments could be a later question - informed by early experiments. (And remember - you could have a european ‘single’ deployment of the platfrom, but keep ‘governance’ by separate instances. So think about governance and growing an instace is separate from platform deployment.)

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@tschumilas when you say “And remember - you could have a European ‘single’ deployment of the platform, but keep ‘governance’ by separate instances. So think about governance and growing an instance is separate from platform deployment.

Do you feel that governance should be kept within borders of the same country, is that it? OR if you mean the separation could me something else (not exactly within national borders), what should be our widest geographic agglomeration per instance?

What are the main reasons in your view, to keep trade separate from governance… Is it related with subsidiarity? I ask this because, as you might be aware there are many mechanisms within the EU territory that support cooperation and collaboration between countries (beyond trade). How effective they are is another story.…but should we not be trying to take advantage of this policy/cultural context? Also based on the fact that we are all signing the same value proposition when we join OFN, could help support a coherence in governance, No?
This is me just trying to filter and synthesize variables for the next discussion, and at the same time not totally seeing how the governance structure could be put together after so many instances have given their kick-start.

One main aspect that seems to be a problem is the tax payment. Which could become complex if merging trade from so many countries, in one deployment, or am not seeing this right?

@tschumilas @ferrazfil One european deplyment and country-based governance would be an interesting path. Many EU countries share same currency and some trade laws, but our food culture, agriculture system, local markets and national law is still very different. So “do not centralize what OFN_god created decentralized” :slight_smile: Making a “confederation” would be probably more effective to manage this beautiful biodiversity e.g a European Cooperative Society (SCE) might manage hosting, development, data, EU advocay, funding etc

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I was really only raising the issue that trade and governance can be different things. As to whether its best to merge them or keep them separate is a discussion for those who know the contexts.

One other thing I just thought of… as super admin in setting up an OFN deployment - I make choice on a lot of things for that deployment - how currency is displayed, which invoice templates to use, tax zones, rates, categories, product properties etc. - so in a single deployment there would need to be agreement on those things too.

Its an interesting question about country-based vs regional governance. I look forward to further thoughts on that…

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@tschumilas thank you for your insight on this. It is appreciated coming from any instance, however moreover when we hearing from someone who has had so much experience as you :wink:

very interesting thread, thank you.
I better understand what are the consequences of having one instance, as @tschumilas says "setting up an OFN deployment - I make choice on a lot of things for that deployment - how currency is displayed, which invoice templates to use, tax zones, rates, categories, product properties etc.

I’m not sure I understand the benefit a OFN EU can have, I see some potential benefits, but I’m curious someone can clarify what you mean by “inter-country trade”, does that mean close to border trade?
Otherwise, as we are oriented to “local” distribution (even if an exception exists) I do not get the interest for a global
As benefits I see:

  • offer a global map to search for hub near where you are without asking yourself where to look (a one OFN search)
  • ease cross boarder or coverage of zone between two OFN instancefor local people (both growers and consumers)
    what else?

Hi @Thomas,
Not sure you are aware but there is a group a of people that are discussing possible scenarios to et a European representative of OFN. Context for this can be found here. There you can see some aspects already discussed about reasons (pros and cons) of establishing such an organization.

Supporting local producers and consumers is and should continue to be one of our key pillars. Now we cannot minimize two aspects that are basically facts:

  • people want to buy products that are out of season where they live (some even that cannot grow where they live regardless of season). Should then they not have access to these products if they are originating from across the border?
  • people have traded along national boarders for centuries and it is something that is evident if we take a quick look to our OFN maps of European countries (would imagine this happens in other places too, but not sure). You will see the suppliers can be found way beyond that country’s border → France; Spain; Italy; Belgium; Germany; Ireland; Greece; UK; Turkey; Switzerland

So the question being debated in this post, is not weather or not an OFN Europe should exist (I guess that has been discussed in the last gathering), but what exactly is this organization to do? We have not arrived to a general agreement here. Of particularly interest in this post, is the area of cross border trading. Therefore: should the organization go beyond knowledge sharing and advocacy aspects, and include trading across borders?

I think one of the important parts to this discussion is - what would happen to existing platform deployments (deployed by country-specific instances) if the EU Instance deployed the platform for cross-country trade? For example as a farmer in Italy (for example) I currently am registered on the Italian platform. Now I want to sell product into France. Right now, I can do that by registering on the French platform. If there were an EU instance IN ADDITION, I would have a choice to register on the French platform OR register on the EU platform. Either way - I have to manage my products, orders… (everything) in 2 places: my ‘home’ on the Italian platform + whichever other platform I’m selling on. At least that is my understanding. We don’t have interoperability across OFN instances (same problem with have with non-OFN platforms). So maybe it makes more sense that we take a long term vision to get that interoperability ? I can’t image many users would want to duplicate everything - very inefficient.

So the other option is that the EU deployment REPLACES the existing instance-specific deployments (or some of them). But with that option - don’t we risk losing community and solidarity?

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Thank you, and sorry to have misunderstood.
Benefits pointed out during The Gathering are mainly Legal and about representation, rather than having an operational (deployed instance) to my understanding. Thank you @ferrazfil for the reference to the 2021 Gathering
Commercial trading - this post topic - is an additional question
… and I have no opinion here. :sweat_smile:

No problem @Thomas it is great that you have shown interest in any case :wink:

I’m late to this discussion but since I feel like I’ve been in this very conversation for over a decade here is a summary of my perspective:

  1. How many Europeans will sign up to a platform that demands that no one can eat bananas, coconut, chocolate or coffee? I think it is worth just accepting trade will happen. So the quest is to make it sustainable, fair and regenerative. I wrote a paper on this once upon a time.

  2. the platform does not support multicurrency, only partially supports multi tax and multilingual. The cost of fully merging platforms is enormous and currently the tech strategy is to make the platforms interoperable through the DFC rather than ever think about merging them. Plus once API work has progressed there would be no reason that we couldnt build a nice OFN.eu that just sits alongside any of the other instances, with any number of unique shopfronts and interoperable between platforms.

  3. Regardless of the tech and trade set up there is scope of regional identity. Take a literal leaf out of the EUs book on that one. A trade union that nourishes local identity is not an unfathomable concept.

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Many thanks for this input @lin_d_hop … You are not late for this discussion, we are moving forward slowly (although I guess still positive we are moving forward). I would like to further note that the (very generic) decisions we have taken so far are in agreement with your perspective. Basically, our last discussions have listed three following responsibilities of this potential new OFN europe org: 1- knowledge sharing; 2 - representation to participate in EU projects; 3 - Directory of all producers in each of the different instances, so that can they potentially find each other.
In respect to the e-commerce merger we decided the following “trading among instances will be something debated in the long term as it not only depends on tech development aspects but also a more complex type of organization to be set-up.”

all aspects related to these meetings can be found here but we will try to have soon some more specific updates… we are just trying to do some ground work for now.

I’m late here as well :person_facepalming: . Just a quick comment on this part:

Instances do not own the producers info they are showing (unless their Terms and conditions specifically mentions this - but I think this would clash with OFN values).
So I think we - as OFN global or Europe - cannot decide which data the directory (-ies) can show. We can work on building the pipes necessary for the directory to work, but that’s it. The decision to be displayed or not on a specific tool should should remain at producer level.

@Rachel Thank you for highlighting this. We really are in a very early stage of the process, but absolutely relevant to be aware of the legal/values boundaries.

I believe everyone who has participated in the conversations so far (in the Task Force), also agrees that the decision to be visible beyond borders should be on the hands of the producer…we had just not had the chance to go as far as actually seeing how to implement this idea…